Monday, December 18, 2017

From the Handbook: Long outs and home runs

It's been long enough since I delved into the Bill James Handbook for a topic that you might have hoped that I've given up trying to mine that vein. No such luck.

This section deals with long fly balls -- those that went out of the yard and those that were outs. Brian Dozier, for example, hit 10 fair balls at least 400 feet (according to this accounting); all 10 were homers. Obvious, you say? Well, no: Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers also hit 10 400-footers, and four of them were outs. (The Detroit park has some space to its centerfield.)

Most 400 foot (or more) flies do leave the yard. Joe Mauer was 3-for-3, Jorge Polanco 5-for-5, Byron Buxton 5-for-5, Eddie Rosario 8-for-8, Miguel Sano 14-for-14, Max Kepler and Eduardo Escobar 9-for-9.

Things start getting dicier just a little shorter, however. Dozier hit 20 balls between 390 and 400 feet; 12 were homers, eight were outs.  Rosario hit 17 balls that distance; nine were homers.  Kepler hit seven; four homers, three outs. Mauer's four were evenly split. Just eyeballing it, that seems the "usual" percentage; a bit over 50 percent of balls hit 390 to 400 feet are homers.

And then there's Sano. Sano hit nine balls that distance; eight were homers. I'll assume it's a fluke until I see it repeated.

(There's an obvious flaw in all this -- it doesn't account for balls neither caught or a homer, say a double off the wall.)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Sunday Funnies

You may have seen the videos the Twins made this spring titled The Escobar Name Game, in which Eduardo Escobar struggles to come up with the names of his teammates.

(If you haven't, visit here and here. It's worth the time.)

Escobar is far from being unique in his inability to remember names. Babe Ruth was notorious for that as well.

When longtime teammate (and ultimately fellow Hall of Fame inductee) Waite Hoyt was traded away from the Yankees, Ruth felt he had to say something in farewell. What he came up with:

"I'm going to miss you, Walter."

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

It's official: ByungHo Park was given his release Friday. He's going back to Korea and the Nexen Heroes.

I still think it could have worked here, but he got one chance, and whether it was because of injury or his skill set, didn't take advantage of it. And he never got another.

---

Former Twins outfielder Oswaldo Arcia is taking his power bat and stubborn approach to Japan. So he's gonna get paid: $1.7 million guaranteed from the Nippon Ham Fighters. He'll be teammates with Michael Tonkin again.

----

The Twins have hired Joel Skinner to manage their Triple A team. Fans of a certain age might remember him as a light-hitting catcher in the 1980s with three AL clubs (White Sox, Yankees, Indians). Fans of even older vintage might remember his dad, Bob Skinner, who was the left fielder for the 1960 World Series champion Pirates and later a major league manager.

Joel Skinner had a very brief stint as Cleveland manager himself (2002; he was 35-41) and has managed in the minors 13 seasons. He's been in the White Sox system for the past five seasons.

---




Ramsey appears to be the most interesting name of the bunch. The Twins drafted him out of high school in 2011 but didn't sign him; he went to Florida State instead and was a first round pick of the Cardinals. He really hasn't hit enough at any level to justify that draft pick, and he hits left-handed, which doesn't really fit with the Twins outfield. A right-handed hitter would be more useful.

I would expect to see Sawyer in training camp, because he's a catcher and they need guys to catch all those bullpen sessions, but he's probably Double A fodder. Featherston has somehow gotten more than 200 plate appearances over the past three years with three different major league teams. Utility infielder on a team that doesn't have an opening for such on the major league roster. 



Friday, December 15, 2017

Rodney and Rule Five

The Twins had a busy Thursday with bullpen moves:


  • They lost a pair of power arms from their Double A bullpen in the Rule 5 draft;
  • They picked up a power arm from a Double A bullpen in the Rule 5 draft and
  • They reached a reported contract agreement with veteran closer Fernando Rodney.


Let's start with the latter, since that is certain to have an effect on the 2018 team.

Most of us know Rodney to some degree. He spent seven years with Detroit to open his career; he was the losing pitcher in the famous Game 163 of 2009. He'll turn 41 during spring training, he's third in career saves among active pitchers (behind Francisco Rodriguez and Huston Street), he's made three All-Star teams and the Twins will be his ninth major league team.

This well-crafted opinion was issued early Thursday, after news that Brandon Kintzler had reached a two-year deal with the Washington Nationals:




They are quite different in pitching styles and repertiores. Rodney throws 60 percent fastballs and alomost 40 percent changeups; Kintzler throws more than 80 percent fastballs. Kintzler's strikeout rate and walk rates are both near the bottom of the league; Rodney's strikeout and walk rates are both about twice Kintzler's. Rodney threw strikes on 61 percent of his pitches (21 percent swinging strikes); Kintzler, 64 percent and 9 percent. (Stats from the Bill James Handbook.)

I'd rather have Kintzler pounding the strike zone than Rodney fighting his command. And since Paul Molitor's stated rationale for going with Kintzler and then Matt Belisle as his closers was that he could rely on them throwing strikes, I suspect Molitor might agree.

Kintzler got two years, $10 million from the Nats; Rodney one year at $4.5 to $6 million depending on incentives. (Both deals are pending physicals; both reportedly include an option year.)

It's possible the Twins preferred Kintzler too, but that Kintzler preferred the Nats. Or that the Twins truly see the addition of a veteran closer as a placeholder and want/expect to transition to a younger pitcher in that role as the season progresses and thus didn't want to do multiple guaranteed years. 

A lot of Twins fans will be irritated by his habit of wearing his cap cocked to the left and his post-save celebration of pantomining firing an arrow into the sky. I will be more irritated by the 2-0 counts and walks.

---

Lost in Rule 5: Nick Burdi and Luke Bard. Gained in Rule 5: Tyler Kinley. Three hard-throwing right handed relievers who spent much of 2017 in Double A.

Burdi and Bard were high draft picks during the second Terry Ryan era; both have missed more time than they've spent on the mound in the minors. The Twins reportedly tried to trade Burdi to the Braves last summer in the Jaime Garcia trade only to have him rejected on medical grounds. My guess is that the new regime does not believe either can remain sound enough to help the major league bullpen. And Burdi in particular is unlikely to fill the 90-day active roster requirement to retain Rule 5 picks in 2018. 

Kinley has been in the Marlins organization. His numbers in Double A and Triple A are not impressive, but he has apparently been dominating in winter ball so far, and the Twins opted to take a flier on him.

I will be surprised if Kinley sticks. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Adding Michael Pineda

Michael Pineda's season ended in July.

The Twins on Wednesday signed free agent pitcher Michael Pineda to a two-year deal. They realistically expect something out of that contract in the second year.

Pineda had Tommy John surgery last summer. Most of 2018 will be spent rehabbing the rebuilt elbow. He'll spend the winter on the 40-man roster, open the season on the disabled list and will certainly be moved to the 60-day DL (and off the 40-man roster) as soon as the Twins need a 40-man spot next season.

As matters stand, the Twins have Jose Berrios set for the 2019 rotation. Ervin Santana and Kyle Gibson will be eligible for free agency after 2018; Trevor May and Phil Hughes, like Pineda, are rehab projects; and prospects Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero, Felix Jose and Aaron Slegers have not established themselves in the majors.

The Twins obviously want to add a big-name starter this winter; the openness with which Thad Levine in particular talks about Yu Darvish is certainly a change from the close-to-the-vest approach of Terry Ryan. Pineda, even without the surgery, is not a big-name starter, although he has some impressive secondary numbers and (when sound) the tools to become a big-name starter.

What he is right now is inventory for 2019.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Trade barriers

My Tuesday long-distance monitoring of the winter meetings opened with Twitter chatter of a supposedly specific trade offer involving the Twins, and ended with general manager Thad Levine downplaying the notion of a trade because of the rise of analyics.

The latter idea is that more formulas and fewer old-style scouts means a narrowing of opinions on what specific players are worth. And at its heart, trading is about different opinions of player value. If everybody pretty much agrees that Player X is worth 10 and Player Y is worth 13, the team with Player Y isn't going to make the deal.

That said, there will be trades made. Some, probably most, will be at least partially financally driven -- salary dumps a la Giancarlo Stanton. A variation of the salary dump is moving a player a team knows it won't re-sign -- the Brian Dozier trade the Twins didn't make last winter. Such trades are often discounted, which is why the Twins didn't pull the trigger.

Anyway: Tuesday morning's rumor involved a package of prospects -- Nick Gordon, Tyler Jay and Zack Granite -- supposedly going to Pittsburgh for Garrit Cole, who has two years left before free agency.

Assuming the accuracy of that package, I might do that were I running the Twins. As I see it:


  • Gordon lacks the power to be a quality regular shortstop, and the Twins have plenty of shortstops above and behind him
  • Granite might become a Denard Span-type leadoff hitter/centerfielder, but it won't be with the Twins for lack of opportunity, and as a left-handed hitter he's not even a particularly good fit on this roster as a fourth outfielder
  • Jay has had trouble staying on the mound.


The obvious drawback to swapping those three for a front-of-the-rotation starter is organizational depth. There isn't opportunity now for Granite, but what if an outfielder takes a significant injury?

I can also see the Twins shying away from including Jay in a trade. Subsitute a lower-ceiling pitcher and it becomes more palatable. (Make it Kyle Gibson and throw in the money for his contract and it becomes a lot easier for me to pull the trigger -- but Pittsburgh might not go for that.)



Tuesday, December 12, 2017

In search of closer No.5

Paul Molitor, in his three seasons managing the Twins, has never had a stable back-of-the-bullpen plan.

He inherited Glen Perkins, an All-Star, as his closer. Perkins was better than ever for the first half of 2015, then got hurt and kept pitching. His season deteriorated, and by season's end Kevin Jepsen had supplanted him in the ninth inning.

Perkins tried again the next year, but one regular season outing was enough to convince everyone that the offseason's rest hadn't solved things. Jepsen, who had been reliable in 2015, wasn't in 2016, and by midseason Brandon Kintzler had taken over the ninth.

Kintzler held the job for more than a calendar year. He proved effective in the role -- effective enough to get a replacement appointment to the All-Star team in 2017 -- until the Twins traded him to Washington for a prospect and international spending space.

At which point Matt Belisle emerged as the quasi closer. Molitor didn't go "full Eckersley" with Belisle -- there were a few long saves by people like Tyler Duffey and Dillon Gee and Gabriel Moya -- but for three outs, Belisle was Molitor's preferred choice in August and September.

What all four have in common: They were veterans. They'd been around a while. There's not much else they have in common.

Jepsen threw hard, with uncertain command; Kinztler has a mediocre strikeout rate but good command and movement; Belisle's 2017 K rate was stronger than Kintzler's, but his ability to work consecutive days was, and remains, questionable.

What I take from this: Molitor prefers a known quantity for the end of games. Not necessarily a "proven closer" -- indeed, none of the successors to Perkins had ever held the glory job even as a fill-in before the Twins --  but somebody who's been through plenty of ups and downs, failures and successes.

And now, while Belisle (and Kintzler) free agents, the job is vacant once again.

The Twins during the second term of Terry Ryan spent a number of high draft picks on relief prospects. As a result they have a number of young, high-upside relief arms in their system. I've been listing them and waiting on them for years. And it's time for some of them to break through.

Indeed, the exposure of Jake Reed and Nick Burdi to the Rule 5 draft this week, the waiving of Randy Rosario (lost to the Cubs) and the sale of Michael Tonkin to a Japanese team all suggest the new front office is at a "prove it" point with a number of them.

Even without those four, the Twins still have Tyler Jay, J.T Chargois and Luke Bard (among others) in their minors, while Trevor Hildenberger, Alan Busenitz, John Curtiss and Moya all finished 2017 with the big club with varying levels of success.

From the Pioneer Press' Mike Berardino at the winter meetings:

“I think somebody on our current roster will garner a save (in 2018),” Twins general manager Thad Levine said jokingly on Monday at the winter meetings. “I think we’re open-minded we may have our closer of the future on our current roster. Do we want to thrust that person into that role come Opening Day? Ideally not.”
Which suggests that the Twins are looking for a veteran to fill the job to open the season -- with an eye to moving him out of the role as Molitor grows more comfortable with using one of the kids.

Such a high-floor, low ceiling approach generally irritates me, but I understand it. The 2018 Twins should view themselves as a playoff contender, and as such don't want to give away games because an inexperienced pitcher panicked late. And as a team entering a window of contention, they don't want to shipwreck a promising relief prospect emotionally. Let them grow into the job.

At the same time, they have enough young arms who could be the next star reliever that there's no good reason to overspend on the likes of free agents Wade Davis or Greg Holland.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

The Modern Era committee made its Hall of Fame selections and rejections Sunday.

It corrected one injustice by selecting Alan Trammell. It repeated another by leaving Marvin Miller out. And it committed a highly predictable error by electing Jack Morris.

That last is not a popular position in Minnesota. Morris was born and raised in St. Paul, he had that marvelous Game Seven to win the 1991 World Series, and he has a role in the Twins telecasts. (He's awful in that role, but that's the norm for FSN, which seems content to have analysts a generation behind the times.)

But the truth is, Jack Morris will be among the very worst pitchers in the Hall. (Rube Marquard and Jesse Haines are probably worse.) He was, as I said here, only once the best starting pitcher on the writers' ballot during the 15 years he was eligible. And he wasn't the best starting pitcher on the Modern Era ballot either. Both Tommy John and Luis Tiant have better credentials.

---

The winter meetings officially begin today in Orlando, Florida, but two of the biggest moves of the offseason have already happened: Shohei Ohtani signed with the Angels, and (pending a physical) Giancarlo Stanton will be traded to the Yankees.

I really don't get the Stanton hysteria. Yes, he hit 59 homers. Yes, he's a top-of-the-charts power hitter. He also has a long history of injuries -- 2017 was only the second time he's played 150 games. And his presence, plus that of Aaron Judge, probably means the Yankees are not going to be contenders in the Bryce Harper derby next winter.

Given a choice between Stanton and Harper, I'll take Harper. And it's not close.

---

Nor do I see Ohtani as a perfect fit with the Angels, although for his price tag imperfect fits are quite acceptable. Where do they get him the at-bats he desires? The outfield is pretty full with Mike Trout, Justin Upton and Kole Calhoun. DH? They're paying Albert Pujols $24 million a year though 2021, and he can't move anymore.

And if Mike Scoscia comes out of spring training saying, "We weren't really serious about giving him at-bats."  that's not a good look. They're going to give Ohtani a legitimate opportunity to play or have a grumpy Ohtani -- and a reputation for deceit.

But all that can be a useful problem, if they handle it right.

---

Back to the Stanton trade. I snorted the other night at the office when I read the Associated Press lead to the trade story:

After helping the New York Yankees to five World Series titles, Derek Jeter might help them win another.

The notion that Jeter is being a sleeper agent for Brian Cashman is silly. The notion that Jeter is over his head in running a major league franchise is not.

And what is obviously true here is that Jeter's ownership group overpaid for the Marlins and are undercapitalized. Their primary goal this winter to unload debt, and the biggest piece of debt they inherited from Jeffery Loria's inept outfit was Stanton's contract.

Jeter tried to send Stanton to the Giants or Cardinals; Stanton, armed with his no-trade clause, refused. Ultimately, it came down to sending him to the Yankees for a pittance or having his contract on the books, and Jeter's group can't afford that contract.

Jeter may well have mishandled the trade talks by exposing his lack of alternatives, although that lack of alternatives was fairly obvious. The biggest mistake, however, was overpaying for a teardown project. They should have let Loria go bankrupt.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Sunday Funnies

The Hall of Famer with the shortest name: Mel Ott.

Master Melvin on the advantages of six letters:

"Every time I sign a ball, and there must have been thousands, I thank my luck that I wasn't born Coveleski, or Wambsganss, or Peckinpaugh."



Saturday, December 9, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

A few interesting developments Friday involving the Twins:




I won't pretend to know how exactly Kalk will affect the Twins pitching, but his addition certainly emphasizes the analytic bent of the new front office. 

Apparently one of his pet projects with the Rays was trying to discern when a pitcher is about to get injured. Every team would like to crack that code.

---


Severino is am 18-year-old second baseman who was one of the international prospects declared free agents by MLB in the Atlanta scandal. He's said to have big power potential. The Twins gave him a bigger bonus than the Braves did in the original signing. He's a switch hitter. 

The $2.5 million is more than the Twins have left in their bonus pool after treading chunks of it to Seattle and Anaheim, so presumably they are dipping into their 2018 pool.

---

Jake Mauer, who I had come to regard as the best managerial prospect in the Twins organization, will not be running any of their farm teams next year. 

Tommy Watkins has been named manager of Double A Chattanooga (Mauer's post last year), and Toby Gardenhire will be the manager in low A Cedar Rapids (Watkins' job last year). Still open are high A Fort Myers (Doug Mientkiewicz, fired) and Triple A Rochester (Mike Quade, reassigned). 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Kevin Maitan was the most prominent of the prospects declared free agents by MLB in the Atlanta Braves international investigation, and the 17-year-old shortstop signed with the Angels this week.

LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune reports that the Twins offered him more, but he chose the Angels because there is less competition in that farm system.

Plausible? Yes. For one thing, he got to keep the Braves bonus, so he's effectively double-dipping. The life-changing aspect of the signing isn't as life-changing.

The Angels system has been notoriously barren for a few years. It's a bit better now, but there is no question that the Twins system, even after graduating a bunch of position players to the majors and even lacking impact position players in the upper levels, is deeper than the Angels.

And that's particularly true at shortstop. The Twins have a 24-year-old major league shortstop in Jorge Polanco. They have a former high first-rounder ticketed for Triple A in Nick Gordon. And at the lower levels -- at the level Maitan played last year and above -- they have Royce Lewis, Wander Javier and Jermaine Palacios, and I'm not sure Maitan is more talented than any of those three.

It would be eminently sensible for Maitan to chose the easier path to the majors.

---

The Twins, the first major league team to extend its protective netting a couple years ago, announced that they will further extend (and raise) the netting at Target Field before next season.

As far as I know, this hasn't drawn near the criticism that the original extension did, And it shouldn't. Much of the Target Field lower bowl is notably close to home plate, distractions are everywhere, and making the experience safer has no real drawback.

---


Reginatto was in the Twins org last year, hitting .303 at Rochester in part-time play. Stassi got some major league time with the Phillies and didn't produce. Pettit's had parts of five seasons in the majors but never got out of Triple A in 2017.

Presumably all three will get spring training invites. Presumably all three will not make the active roster.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Prospects for nothing

The Twins got busy Wednesday night:




A reference like "$1 million in international pool money" -- which is what the Twins traded in each of these deals -- isn't actual dollars. What they traded is cap space, the right to spend $1 million on international free agents. So the Twins landed a pair of reasonable prospects without paying anything. Cue Dire Straits: "Prospects for nothing."

The Angels and Mariners paid $1.3 million in draft bonuses this year to Pearson and Banuelos. The Twins got them for Shohei Ohtani ammunition. They still have more than $1 million in international pool space available, and four of the finalists for the Japanese phenom are tapped out and unable to offer Ohtani more than $300,000, so another such deal might be ahead. Or they might re-sign Jefry Marte for a fraction of his original deal -- the Twins negated his $3 million deal when he failed his physical.

The prospect rankings cited by Bollinger are from MLB.com's list. Baseball America's list isn't quite so high:





Wednesday, December 6, 2017

From the Handbook: Holding Runners

This is actually from a section entitled "Pitcher hitting, fielding and holding runners, and hitters pitching." And since we all already know Chris Gimenez pitched in six games last season, we'll narrow it down to something else a bit off beat -- holding runners.

Kyle Gibson pitched 158 innings for the Twins in 2017. Six runners attempted to steal off him; only one was successful.

There there's Jose Berrios -- 145 innings, nine attempts, six steals. Ervin Santana: 211 innings, 13 attempts. 11 successes.

To be sure, there isn't as much basestealing today as there was when I was young and artificial turf was in vogue. Managers wisely are less interested in one base in an era when there are twice as many homers hit and higher strikeout rates make "manufactured runs" less likely. And more precise data on "pop times" -- the time between the pitch hitting the catcher's glove and the catcher's throw to second hitting the infielder's glove -- and base runner speed gives managers a better handle on the real chance of a specific runner stealing a base successfully.

The result is that while basestealing attempts are down, success rates are up.

Unless you're running on Gibson. In which case, not only are attempts rather infrequent, success is even more rare.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

From the Handbook: Relief pitcher use

One of favorite segements of the annual Bill James Handbook in recent years has been the relief pitching breakdown, detailing how different relievers were used.

One of the running themes in the blog last season was Paul Molitor's handling of his always thin bullpen. He never seemed to have more than three guys he trusted -- and the identities of those three changed frequently.

The Handbook breaks down the usage of 12 Twins relievers -- the 12 with at least 10 relief appearances.

A few items:

The Twins reliever who inherited the most runners was Ryan Pressley, 38 -- one more than Tyler Duffey. Eleven of Pressley's inherited runners scored (29 percent). But 17 of Duffey's scored (46 percent, worst of the 12 listed). The best strand rate: Michael Tonkin, who has been sold to the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan (10 inherited runners, one scored).

The reliever with the highest leverage index -- a measurement of the cruciality of the at-bats -- was Brandon Kintzler, the closer who was traded at the end of July and is now a free agent. His leverage index was 1.7. For context, 16 of the 30 major league teams had at least one qualified reliever with a higher leverage index.

Kinztler didn't get a lot of chances to pick up saves with Washington; Dusty Baker generally gave the ninth inning to fellow mid-season pickup Sean Doolittle. Kintzler's leverage index with the Nats was 1.8.

No real surprise here: The Twins reliever with the most consecutive days pitching was Taylor Rogers, 19. What is a surprise, to me at least: the next highest was Matt Belisle  with 13. I'll wager that the majority of them came after he ascended to the glory job after Kintzler was traded.

And the Twins reliever with the most "long" outings --  more than one inning -- was Duffey with 18, more than twice that of any other Twins.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Ohtani resolution (for the Twins)

So much for Shohei Ohtani coming to Minnesota:




The Twins were perceived, at least in some corners, as a dark horse candidate to land the Japanese phenom, and Thad Levine made no bones in recent interviews that the pitcher-outfielder was a top priority. But they didn't get to the interview stage with him.

Neither did the New York Yankees, who were, by the conventional wisdom, the mostly likely successful suitor. It's kinda amusing to see the reaction of the NYC tabs to the news:

Anyway, that's their problem. And it really is something of a problem for the Yankees, who desperately want to get under the salary cap threshold in 2018 to break the escalating penalties for "overspending" before the anticipated free agencies of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Ohtani represented not only a major talent upgrade but a cheap one. That last is, this winter, rather vital to the Yankees. They were, apparently, really counting on landing him. And now they won't.

For the Twins, there is now a clear top priority in the free agent market, at least if we fully credit Levine's recent interviews (always a dangerous proposition with any general manager): Yu Darvish.

Darvish is, of course, another Japanese pitching star. He has more mileage than Ohtani and is going to be more expensive by multiples, but he's a proven commodity, Levine knows him well from their mutual tenure with the Texas Rangers, and there's no position player/pitcher two-way drama involved.

I'm not saying that the Twins will land Darvish, who is probably the biggest conventional free agent in the market. I am saying that he's their target. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Sunday Funnies

Before Casey Stengel became a genius as manager of the New York Yankees, he was a failure as manager of the Boston Braves and Brooklyn Dodgers.

One lowlight of his Dodgers tenure was his invention of a pickoff play at third base. The pitcher was to throw the ball at the right-handed batter's head, the idea being that the sight of the batter going to the ground would cause the baserunner to freeze, while the catcher would have a clear lane to throw to third.

The problem, as Stengel later described it: "The fellows I had playing third base for me used to freeze right along with the base runner, and our left fielder was kept busy running down the ball in the bullpen."

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Tender thoughts on Kyle Gibson

Friday was the deadline for "tendering" contracts to arbitration-eligible players. The Twins have six such players -- infielders Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza, outfielder Robbie Grossman and pitchers Kyle Gibson, Ryan Pressley and Trevor May. Each was tendered.

This was expected, although at the start of August I figured Gibson was a non-tender candidate. Bt he was much better in August and September, and even if he gets $6 million out of the arbiration process, that's still cheaper than the cost of a 160-inning pitcher in free agency.

Still, I wouldn't feel overly secure were I in his position. My sense is that the Twins are serious about signing one free agent starter -- Thad Levine, the general manager, has explictly named two big names, Yu Darvish and Shohei Ohtani -- and trading for another.

The offseason goal, in short, is to make Jose Berrios the fourth starter and Ervin Santana either the second or third best starter in the rotation. If that happens, Gibson -- and Aldaberto Mejia and surgical recovery projects May and Phil Hughes, among others -- are left to scrap it out for the fifth starter spot. Of those four, Gibson may have highest floor and the lowest ceiling.

I've seen Gerrit Cole and Jake Odorizzi linked to the Twins in trade rumors, although I doubt the Twins have the upper-level minor league talent to pry Cole away from the Pirates. Odorizzi may be more obtainable -- the Rays are said to be ready to reboot -- and I can see the Twins building a package around shortstop prospect Nick Gordon for the right-hander. And I can imagine, in that scenario, Gibson being part of the package, with the Rays getting him to plug into their rotation for a year.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Minor changes

Some news out of the Twins minor league system Thursday:




Wilson is the most recognizable name in that bunch to me; he spent time with three different AL teams last season, Detroit, Texas and Tampa Bay. Astudillo has some ... how to put it ... unique characteristics, as summarized by this piece. But really, I expect the backup catcher to be Mitch Garver.

---

There will be more changes among the minor league managers. We already knew Doug Mientkiewicz was out as the manager at High A Fort Myers. Now Mike Bernardino reports that Mike Quade is shifting out of the job at Triple A Rochester. Quade had a rough year physically after being involved in a traffic crash during spring training. 

And Berandino says Tommy Watkins, who ran Low A Cedar Rapids last year, is "tentatively" ticketed for Double A Chattanooga in 2018. Jake Mauer, who had the Chattanooga job last year, "is said to be weighing his professional options after spending the last 10 years managing in the Twins’ system." Which implies that it's Mauer's choice. 

I would think the Twins would (a) want to keep Mauer around and (b) that he would be a logical choice for the Rochester job, but I remain a bit dumbfounded by the ouster of Mientkiewicz. I don't have a handle on the thinking here.

Another tidbit from Bernandino: Toby Gardenhire -- son of Ron, former Twins farmhand, former head coach at UW-Stout -- is likely to wind up with a managerial job somewhere in the system. I'll guess not at Rochester.

---

There's some more shuffling going on. Bob McClure, who's been a pitching coach for three major league teams and was a teammate of Paul Molitor in the long ago and far away of Milwaukee, is to be "senior pitching advisor," a new position. 

The Twins hired Japanese native Masa Abe, 39, as assistant athletic trainer, which is interesting if only because Shohei Ohtani's questionnaire specifically asks about the medical and training facilities.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

From the Handbook: Stolen base attempt times

The Handbook lists the average time recorded by every player with at least six attempts to steal second base. The fastest is Mallex Smith of Tampa Bay, 3.44 seconds. Byron Buxton is fourth at 3.52 seconds, one one-hundreth of a second slower than Bradley Zimmer of Cleveland. (Billy Hamilton of Cincinnati is wedged between Smith and Zimmer.)

Three other Twins are in the chart; Jorge Polanco is 63rd on the list at 3.69 seconds, Brian Dozier is No.72 (3.71) and Eddie Rosario is 74th, one of seven listed with 3.72. (Max Kepler, who had six steal and one caught stealing, doesn't appear to be on the list.)

For me, at least, there are a few surprises on this list. One is the notion that Polanco is faster than Dozier and Rosario. 

Then there's #OldFriend Aaron Hicks, darn near the caboose on this train. His name is 104th on the list of 106, tied with two others at 3.85, a third of a second slower than Buxton and more than 0.10 behind Polanco, Dozier and Rosario.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

From the Handbook: Team baserunning

Strictly speaking, this is in the same section as the previous post, but I thought it worth its own post.

Baseball Info Systems' formula rates the 2017 Twins as the third best baserunning team in the majors, and just one base shy of second-place Cleveland. (Arizona was tops at + 103, then the Tribe with 83 and Minnesota at 82.)

This is a bit up from 2016, when BIS' data had the Twins a +61 and the sixth best baserunning team, and sharply up from 2015, when they lost 19 bases and were solidly in the bottom half.

Only one team (San Diego) grounded into fewer double plays than the Twins, and the Padres had more than 100 fewer chances to do so. As I said in the previous post, I don't know that I agree with working GIDP -- that's grounded into double plays, for yesterday's commenter -- into the baserunning formula, but it's there.

Twenty-two of the 30 teams were in positive territory as baserunners in 2017. And while the absolute worst baserunning teams (Detroit and Philadelphia) were bottom-dwellers in the standings, the Houston Astros -- who won 101 games and the World Series -- were -14 for the season, sixth worst.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

From the Handbook: Baserunning

We all know Byron Buxton is fast. We also know that speed alone does not equal outstanding baserunning.

But as Baseball Info Systems figures such things, Buxton was the best baserunner in baseball in 2017, at +55 bases.

The essay that preceeds the numbers notes that Buxton gained at least 27 bases from both basestealing and from "bases gained" -- for example, going first to third on a single or advancing on a wild pitch -- making him "the most balanced of the leaders."

Plus he grounded into just one double play. I'm not completely sold on BIS' inclusion of GIDP in the baserunning metrics, but I don't make the rules for them.

Joe Mauer has long been viewed -- accurately for the most part -- as an outstanding baserunner without outstanding speed. He has become visibly slower in the past few years (he is 34, after all) and in 2017 he scored a -7 in BIS's metric. For his career -- the Handbook contains career baserunning totals for players with 1,000 career games started in 2002) Mauer is +86, which isn't close to being the active leader but is certainly no embarrassment.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The status of ByungHo Park

There were conflicting reports Sunday on ByungHo Park:





The issue, I'm sure: Baseball's rules do not permit players to renounce their guaranteed money to get out of a contract. Park may want out of his remaining year with the Twins, and the Twins may want out of it too, but the contract is not so easily broken. 

Assuming that this gets resolved with Park returning to the Heroes, there is a lesson here -- and it's not the "stay away from Japansese/Korean players" moral some nitwits on Twitter have offered. It's that right-right first basemen -- throw right, hit right -- better take advantage of their opportunities when they come, because a second might never arrive. 

My sense all along has been that Park is better than Kennys Vargas. But Park didn't -- probably because of injury -- take advantage of his opportunity at the start of 2016, and even though he clearly outplayed Vargas in spring training last year, when the major league club needed a bat it brought up Vargas instead. 

They had reasons: Vargas was on the 40 and Park was not, and Park never really got going in Triple A. But Vargas hasn't exactly torn apart the International League either, and he's had repeated chances in the majors. What separates him from Park is being a switch-hitter. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Sunday Funnies

Zach Greinke has earned a reputation as a baseball savant, a guy who sees things that others miss and exploits that knowledge.

So when he approached his struggling young teammate in Kansas City, Alex Gordon, and asked the slumping rookie to accompany him to the video room, Gordon figured that Greinke had spotted something, a flaw in Gordon's swing that he could fix and turn his season around.

Greinke turned on the monitor and played -- a clip of Greinke hitting a home run. Greinke watched the video admiringly, then turned to Gordon.

"Do more of that," Greinkke instructed.


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

It's been a quiet offseason so far, not just for the Twins but all over. There's been little movement among the prominent free agents and a scarcity of trades.

Part of the slow pace regarding free agents may be Scott Boras, who reps a number of the big names on the market: first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas and starter Jake Arrieta. Boras is big on a slow process.

Personally, however, if I were buying a first baseman on this market I'd rather go for Carlos Santana than Hosmer, there is reason to be wary of Arrieta and Moustakas is not exactly the definition of consistent production.

The current whispers about the Twins have them more active in trade talks than free agents. Now that we've gotten past Thanksgiving, and with the winter meetings looming early next month, things might start to happen.

---

MLB dropped a heavy hammer on the Atlanta Braves for circumventing the rules for signing foreign free agents. Twelve Braves farm hands, some quite prominent on prospect lists, were declared free agents this week, and John Coppollela, the general manager fired a few weeks ago as the investigation came to light, has been banned permanently. And it's worth noting that John Hart, the veteran GM who was Coppollela's superior, has left the organization "to pursue other opportunities." Sure he is.

I tried to make sense of the rules for signing the newly freed players and gave up. I'll trust Falvine to know (a) which guys they want to pursue and (b) the limitations on that pursuit.

The commissioner certainly came down harder on the Braves than he did on the Cardinals (hacking), the Red Sox (signing violations) or Padres (hiding medical information in trades) -- hard enough that the general belief is that the rest of the teams are stepping back from the anything goes mentality.

---

The Hall of Fame ballot was released this week. Among the newcomers are a handful of former Twins, including Johan Santana. Santana hasn't offiically given up his hopes of pitching again, but it's been five years since he threw a major league pitch. He certainly had a Hall-of-Fame peak, but the longevity was lacking.

Other ex-Twins fresh to the ballot: Jim Thome, who will get in, and Livan Hernandez, who won't.

And a day or so after the ballot was released Joe Morgan, the vice chairman of the Hall of Fame's board of directors, fired off a letter to the electorate urging them to reject steroid users. While he didn't explictly say that he was speaking on behalf of the board, he did mention his position and used the Hall's email account.

Morgan drew some pushback from voters. But this is seen as the first time that the people who run the Hall have put their finger on the scale, and Joe Posnanski, for one, thinks the Morgan letter dooms the rising candidacies of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, each of whom topped 50 percent last year.

Friday, November 24, 2017

From the Handbook: Defensive Statistics

This section of the Bill James Handbook has changed considerably over the years as defensive metrics have been devised, tested and improved.

The Twins player I was most interested in checking out here is Jorge Polanco, the regular shortstop who I believe is stretched at the position.

What these stats say is: He's not great, but he gets the job done.

He's at zero in "bases saved" and -1 in "runs saved," which adds up, essentially, to: He's an average shortstop. Which, if he's capable of being a productive middle-of-the-order bat -- and he hit third regularly down the stretch -- is quite acceptable.

It's worth noting, however, that 14 of the 24 shortstops listed as "regulars" at the position were better in the metrics. He's average compared to the entire set of shortstop innings, but less adept than most the guys who play most of the innings. As one might imagine for a key defensive position, the scrubs bring the average down -- and Polanco is good enough to be better than them.

Eduardo Escobar, in about an eighth of Polancos innings at short, is -2 in runs saved, and Ehrie Adrianza is +1 in about a quarter of Polanco's innings at short. That Adrianza is the best of the trio with the glove sounds right. I'm not convinced that Polanco's better than Escobar, but I'm not sure the difference matters much in either direction.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving

This blog's Thanksgiving photo tradition continues.

Have a good holiday, and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

From the Handbook: Shifting

Combining two sections here, complilations of how often teams shifted and how successful those shifts were.

By Baseball Info Systems' accounting, the Twins shifted 906 times in 2017, an increase of 71 shifts from 2016. This includes the at-bats in which the hitter gets to two strikes and THEN Miguel Sano trots over to the first-base side of second base. It might be a one-pitch shift, but it counts because the AB ended with the defense shifted.

This puts the Twins pretty much dead center in the AL in terms of deploying shifts. Seven shifted more often, seven shifted less often.

Brian Dozier is spotlighted in the short introductory essay on hits lost and gained to shifts. Dozier faced 225 shifts in 2017, and BIS says he lost 21 hits to the shift -- and gained 24. Few right-handed hitters face as many shifts as Dozier (Albert Pujols faces more, but that's about it), and it doesn't appear to do much for the opposition.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Adding to (but not filling) the 40

The Twins added three prospects to the 40-man roster Monday, the deadline to protect them from the Rule 5 draft next month.

The three: Stephen Gonsalves, Zach Littell and Lewis Thorpe. All are starting pitchers; Gonsalves and Thorpe are lefties, Littell a right hander. Gonsalves and Littell shone in Double A in 2017; Thorpe got back on the mound after a series of lost seasons to injury and again showed strong stuff.

Notable for their absences are RHP Kohl Stewart, the No. 4 overall pick in 2013; 1B Lewin Diaz, who got a $1.2 million bonus when the Twins signed him out of the Dominican in 2013; RHP Nick Burdi, second round pick in 2014; and RHP Jake Reed, who has flashed impressive stuff at times as a reliever.

I'm not truly surprised by their omissions.

Stewart has never lived up to his draft position; he reached Triple A last season, but that's more because of the investment made in him by the previous regime. His K-rate is way too low for him to be considered a real threat to crack a major league staff.

Diaz just had his first season of more than 200 plate appearances, and it came in low A. He's not going to get picked in Rule 5 because he's limited to first base defensively and in this age of 13-man pitching staffs nobody's going to carry a position player of such limited use. (If they do, they deserve the 100 losses they're asking for.)

Burdi had Tommy John surgery last summer; if he pitches at all in 2018, it will be late in the season. A team that Rule 5's him can stash him on the 60-day DL this year, true, but then would have to carry him all of 2019. Probably not happening.

Reed is the one of that trio who might be tapped. But between his inconsisency and some arm issues, the Twins have not really treated him as a fast-track relief arm.

I've focused on who didn't get added partly because I've become accustomed to the Twins stuffing their 40 with minor leaguers. That didn't happen this year; the Twins still have four vacancies on their roster. They've left themselves plenty of space for additions, be they via free agency, trade of prospects for veterans or the Rule 5 draft.

Monday, November 20, 2017

From the Handbook: Win Shares

I'm going to skip ahead again today because last week, in conjunction with the AL MVP announcement, Bill James posted this essay dissecting what he sees as a fundamental problem with WAR -- Wins Above Replacement -- and then Joe Posnanski posted this piece to amplify James' points, and ... well, here I am.

WAR was developed about the same time -- maybe a little later -- that James concocted Win Shares. He made Win Shares the basis of his major revision of The Bill James Historical Abstract near the close of the 20th century, followed that with a book to explain Win Shares in detail ("Win Shares" -- an obvious title) and then pretty much dropped out of public sabermetrics. Whatever current cutting-edge analysis he does, he does for the Boston Red Sox. He's far more likely to publish books about crime than baseball these days.

He didn't do a lot to promote Win Shares in the battle for acceptance. WAR won. You can find competing versions of WAR on Baseball Reference and Fangraphs; it's not easy to find Win Shares online.

But I've always preferred Win Shares. I'm sure part of that is that James writes so well. I've never encountered an explaination of WAR that didn't leave me gasping for air as I drown in concepts I can't grasp. James I can follow. I'm more confident I understand Win Shares than WAR.

Anyway ... back to the Handbook. The Handbook annually publishes Win Shares. And Win Shares has a notably different take on who was important for the Twins than WAR does, or at least the Baseball Reference version.

bWAR has Byron Buxton as the most valuable Twin (5.1 WAR). Some other position players: Brian Dozier is at 4.4, Joe Mayer 3.4, Jason Castro and Miguel Sano 2.5 each, Jorge Polanco 2.1, Eduardo Escobar 1.3.

Win Shares has Dozier well ahead of the rest with 26. Mauer has 18, Buxton, Polanco, Sano and Escobar 14 each, Castro 12.

My sense is something of a mixture, and I suspect it of being heavily biased in Buxton's favor because I have maintained for so long that the Twins needed to prioritize outfield defense. I think Buxton's the most important player on this team. I think bWar has that right.

But I think Win Shares is more correct on the rest of them, and in particular Escobar. He's underappreciated by bWAR (in my opinion).

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Sunday Funnies

The news this week that the Twins radio broadcasts were returning to WCCO brought to mind the legendary Halsey Hall, who was in the radio and TV booths for the first decade or so that the team was in Minnesota.

That's long enough ago that I barely remember him, and I'm old.

Hall smoked cigars in the booth. Herb Carneal used to say: "I don't mind the smell of a good cigar. Unfortunately, those weren't the kind Halsey smoked."

Hall set his jacket on fire with his cigar during one game. 3M soon presented the legend with an asbestos sports jacket. I doubt anybody would do such a thing today.

And Jerry Zimmerman, a light-hitting reserve catcher, supposedly said: "Halsey is the only man I know who can turn a sports coat into a blazer."

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Regarding the pursuit of Shohei Otani: There is currently no posting system for Japanese players to come to the American majors, and the MLBPA -- the players union -- is apparently deeply unhappy that as matters stand, Otani will get a pittance compared to what his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, will get.

The union on Thursday set a Monday deadline for an agreement on the matter. If no deal on the posting system is struck by then, it will keep Otani from playing in the U.S. next season.

I'll believe that happens when I see it.

---

Two of the players the Twins deleted from their 40-man roster since their season ended have signed with new organizations: utilityman Niko Goodrum with the Tigers, lefty relief specialist Ryan O'Rourke with the Orioles. And pitcher Dereck Rodriguez, son of Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez, signed with the Giants as a minor league free agent.

The Twins have yet to add minor leaguers to their 40. The deadline to do so before the Rule 5 draft is Monday.

---

The Twins' radio broadcasts are returning to WCCO.

I'm not sure how big a deal this is. 'CCO isn't what it once was, and certainly losing the Twins after the 2006 season was part of that, but radio simply isn't the kingpin of baseball broadcasting anymore.

Still ... Cory Provus laps the field in terms of the four main broadcast voices for this team, and having the games on the clear-channel giant again will make it easier to find the games when traveling in outstate Minnesota.

I suspect this means the Pohlads plan to unload their radio properties. I don't live in range of Twin Cities FM, and I'm certainly no expect on the radio biz, but I'm a bit baffled that they couldn't make a go of a baseball-based FM station.

Friday, November 17, 2017

From the Handbook: Defensive Runs Saved

On Monday I took note of the "runs saved" by position for the Twins. As a team, the Twins had 28 runs saved -- and 27 of them came from centerfield.

A few pages deeper into the book we get to the individual leaders. Byron Buxton had 24 runs saved in center -- most of any individual center fielder in baseball, but not the most of any outfielder. Mookie Betts, who plays right field for the Red Sox, had 31.

So there were another three runs saved by the others who played center for Minnesota -- mostly Zack Granite and Eddie Rosario.

The worst center fielder by this metric? #OldFriend Denard Span, who cost the San Francisco Giants 27 runs last year. A lot of things went wrong for the Jints in 2017. An aging Span in the middle of that big outfield was one of them.

The only other Twins to appear among the leaders in runs saved in 2017 are Joe Mauer, seventh at first base (7 runs saved) and Jason Castro, tied for ninth at catcher (10). But no Twins were among the trailers -- not even Aldaberto Mejia, who struck me as perhaps the worst fielding pitcher I've ever seen in a Twins uniform.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Jelfry Marte, Shohei Otani and $3 million

There was a brief, if misplaced, stir in the Twins twitterverse Wednesday regarding Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani.

It started with this report from Baseball America's Ben Badler, who has developed quite the speciality in covering the Latin America prospect market. It was the first time it had been reported that the Twins had negated their major signing in that market this summer, shortstop Jelfry Marte, after the Dominican shortstop failed the physical.

The sentence that stirred the tweets:

With Marte's contract voided, the Twins have an extra $3 million available in their bonus pool for the 2017-18 signing period, which ends on June 15, 2018.

The next sentence mentioned Otani and Cuban defector Julio Pablo Martinez as prominent foreign prospects not yet eligible to sign but likely to hit the market during this signing period.

Last week the Associated Press had noted that three teams, including the Twins, had more than $3 million remaining in their foreign spending pool, so some of us promptly added the two sums together. Hey, $6 million to throw at Otani!

Uh, no. The Twins have $3.2 million in their pool because they canceled the Marte signing earlier. It just wasn't widely known.

Otani's pending arrival in the American market is shrouded in uncertainty. The specific rules are actually being developed. What we know:


  • He's two years away from being a true free agent for U.S. baseball
  • He will cost the team that lands him a tiny fraction of his open market value
  • He really wants to play in the United States anyway
  • and he wants to both pitch and hit.


Given the prodigious talent and the restricted investment, every team should want Otani, and the Twins are clearly interested. Thad Levine, the Twins general manager, said this week on MLB Network of Otani's desire to be a two-way player here:

“I think we’d let him do whatever he damn well pleases to come to Minnesota.”

The Twins don't have a full-time DH. They clearly can use a top-flight starting pitcher. I can imagine them using Otani as a part-time DH in between starts. If he gets the day before and the day after a start off, he can DH the two days in the middle. (He plays outfield in Japan, but he's unlikely to do much of that here to minimize the injury risk.) And, as noted, the Twins have about as much money to spend on him as anybody.

Is Otani likely to favor Minnesota? Unknown. Will his hit tool play in the majors? Unknown. (Nobody doubts the power tool.) There may be more lucrative places, in terms of endorsement money both in Japan and in the United States, for him to start his American career. But the Twins do appear to offer a good portion of what he appears to desire in coming to America.

I doubt the Twins canceled the Marte contract simply to give themselves a better shot at Otani. A bird in the hand and all that; if they still thought him worth the $3 million bonus, they'd have kept him. But Otani is certainly a prize to dream on.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

From the Handbook: Paul Molitor, manager (of the year)

Paul Molitor was named American League Manager of the Year Tuesday. So we'll jump ahead to the the manager stats section of the Handbook.

To repeat a core philosophy about evaluating managers: the in-game aspect of the job may be the most visible, and it may be the least important.

That was true 10 years ago, and it's even more true now, with the analytics having pretty throughly peremated the game. In-game moves have flattened out.

For example: the 15 American Leauge teams ranged from 47 to 16 sacrifice bunt attempts (and no, Molitor did not lead the league in bunting; that would be Rick Renteria of the White Sox). Twenty years ago, in the middle of the steroid era and without interleague play, five AL teams had more than 47 successful sacrifices (and obviously more attempts than that). Twenty years before THAT, in 1977, an AL team sacrified 116 times (Texas). The sacrifice bunt has largely left the game; if not for pitchers, it would be virtually extinct.

Molitor, as noted above, did not lead the league in bunts. But he was close; the Twins attempted 46 sac bunts.

What he did lead the league in was failed intentional walks. And it's something of a pattern.

BIS catagorizes intentional walks as "good," "not good" and "bomb". IBB that are immediately followed by a double play or in which no runs are scored after the IBB are deemed "good." If there is no DP and one run scores after the IBB, it's "not good." And if there is no DP and multiple runs score, it's a "bomb."

Molitor called 37 intentional walks in 2017, tied for second most in the AL. Only 19 were "good." The other 18 were "not good" -- most in the league -- and 11 were "bombs," also most in the league.

It's the second straight season that Molitor has led the AL in bombs. His IBB have largely just added fuel to the fires.

---

MOY is a odd award in this sense: Like the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young, it goes to somebody who had a good year -- but generally to somebody who wasn't expected to have a good year.

Narratives matter in the other writer votes, of course -- they're writers, and they make their living telling stories -- but the narrative is front-and-center in the manager voting.

Molitor certainly had the narrative. Last year of contract, unfamiliar bosses in the front office, coming off a 103-loss season, a veteran starter and his closer dealt away at the deadline -- and he still got the team above .500 and into the playoffs. And he got a new contract.

The tricky thing about MOY is that the shine diminishes fairly rapidly. Because the game's equilibrium is perpetually set at .500, managers who preside over a sudden rise in the standings often find themselves presiding over a sudden decline -- and frequently out of favor soon after capturing the award.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Carlos Beltran announced his retirement Monday.

It's not a great surprise. He turns 41 in April and 2017 was the least productive season of his distinguished career. The Astros kept him on the roster for the playoffs and World Series, but perhaps the best postseason player of his generation (16 home runs in 256 playoff and World Series at-bats) seldom got off the bench.

His will be an interesting Hall of Fame debate. I'd support him -- I am, as I've said, a Big Hall guy -- but Beltran never led the league in any statistical category (other than games played in 2002) and fell short of the "automatic" career markers such as 3,000 hits and 500 homers.

---

This was a long time ago, really but look at the Kansas City Royals of 1999. Specifically, look at their outfield -- Johnny Damon in left, Beltran (then a rookie) in center, Jermaine Dye in right. None of them over 25, all of them at an All-Star level.

One of the best young outfields in baseball history. I wrote a Monday column this year on how wonderful the Twins outfield (Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler) could be; they aren't as good now as the '99 Royals outfield was, and only time will tell if they have the careers of the Damon-Beltran-Dye group.

The Royals got very little out of their trio. They sold them off one by one; by 2002 Beltran was flanked by Chuck Knoblauch and Michael Tucker. Damon and Dye went to the Athletics, Beltran to the Astros. Each won World Series with other teams, Damon with the Red Sox and Yankees, Dye with the White Sox, Beltran on his second go-around with Houston. And the Royals stayed on their losing treadmill until another group of young players jelled.

---

I'll throw a Handbook item in here to give me a third topic. Last month I noted that the Fielding Bible Awards panel voted Byron Buxton the best defensive center fielder in baseball, that the voting was one vote shy of unaminity in center and said the voting details would be in the Handbook.

Mark Simon of ESPN had Buxton as the No. 2 CF, behind Kevin Kiermaier of Tampa Bay.

Other Twins votes in this section: Joe Mauer was fifth in the first base voting. His highest vote was a fourth-place voted (Brian Kenny of MLB Network). Brian Dozier was in the "receiving votes" catagory at second base, which is more than Miguel Sano or Jorge Polanco got at third base or shortstop. Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Jason Castro also fell short of the top 10 at their positions.





Monday, November 13, 2017

From the Handbook: Team Statistics

Quick question: Which part of the Twins pitching staff did better in 2017, the starting pitchers or the relievers?

Answer: Depends on what your standard is.

The Twins starting pitchers had a markedly worse ERA -- 4.73 for starters, 4.40 for relievers. But in comparison to the rest of baseball, the starters were slightly better. Their ERA ranked 19th among the 30 teams. The relief ERA ranked 20th.

Neither, obviously, is very good.

Another tidbit from this section: As BIS figures these things, the Twins; fielders saved 28 runs last season, 10th best in the majors. Center field -- Byron Buxton, mostly -- saved 27.

Second base, occupied for the most part by fellow Gold Glove recipient Brian Dozier, was a -5. No American League team saved more runs at first base (9) than the Twins, but Joe Mauer wasn't even one of the three finalists for the trophy.

The Twins' worst defensive position by this metric was third base, -9.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Sunday Funnies

We resume today The Sunday Funnies, baseball stories and quips that tickle my sense of humor. They may not all be historically accurate, but the point is more amusement than truth.

With any luck, I'll avoid repeating tales told in previous winters, but I make no guarantee of that.

---

Al "The Bull" Ferrara was a slow-footed right-handed slugging outfielder of the 1960s and early '70s. A bench piece for the Dodgers for much of the '60s, he got a chance to play semi-regularly with the expansion San Diego Padres in 1969 and 1970, and the Padres determined that what he provided with the bat was pretty much negated in the field and on the bases.

So they traded him early in the 1971 season to the defending NL champion Cincinnati Reds for Angel Bravo, a light-hitting speedy left-handed outfielder.

One day Sparky Anderson, the Reds manager, made the mistake of putting the Bull in left field, and he promptly turned a routine fly ball into an extra base hit. Anderson was visibly fuming on the bench as the inning ended and Ferrara returned to the dugout.

But before Sparky could light into Ferrara, the veteran stopped him with: "What the hell did you expect for Angel Bravo?"

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Notes. quotes and comment

Byron Buxton caught some more love for his glove Friday.

The Twins centerfielder was voted the "Platimum Glove" in online fan balloting as baseball's best defensive player; the award is an offshoot of the long-established Gold Gloves, which are voted on by managers and coaches, were named earlier in the week and are sponsored by Rawlings.

Another glove manufacturer sponsors another set of awards. The Wilson Fielding Awards, relatively new, aren't handed out by vote but on the basis of a melange of fielding metrics. Buxton won both the position award in center and the overall defensive player of the year award.

Buxton passes the eye test and the metrics test. Now if he can keep from running his career into the wall, literally.

---

Doug Mientkiewicz this week was named manager of the Detroit Tigers' Triple A affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens, this week.

The reports said he was highly recommended by the Tigers' new big-league manager, Ron Gardenhire.

This amuses me, because when the Twins traded Mientkiewicz away as a player in July 2004 -- making room for Justin Morneau -- he departed, as I recall, with some verbal shots at Gardenhire, who he claimed mislead him about his playing time with Morneau's arrival.

Apparently there are no grudges held some 13 years later. (Thirteen years! The number of times I am reminded of how old I am ...)


Friday, November 10, 2017

From the Handbook: Starting pitcher rankings

Another new item in the Handbook this winter (and it suddenly feels like winter in southern Minnesota) is a system of ranking starting pitchers.

By their methodology -- complex enough that the book refers readers to the subscription Bill James Online site for a complete explaination -- Ervin Santana is currently the 14th best starter in baseball. (The Top 5: Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale and Justin Verlander, a perfectly acceptable quintent and ranking.)

Santana is squeezed between Jose Quintana and Robbie Ray, two lefties considerably younger than Santana.

Kyle Gibson is 63rd (the system heavily favor the most recent starts, and he had a very strong September). Jose Berrios is 88th and Bartolo Colon is 99th. Aldaberto Mejia comes in at 129.

Those would be the five-most used starters of the 2017 Twins. I'm confident that most of us would rank Berrios higher than Gibson, and I would put Mejia above Colon but we're anticipating the future when we do that.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

From the Handbook: Hard hit balls

OK, Twins fans: Who on this team was most likely in a random plate appearance to hit the ball hard? Now, hold that thought.

The second topic in the 2018 Bill James Handbook is on hard-hit balls. James wrote a essay introducing the topic, which is new to the annual reference work, delving into the meanings, implications and distortions of the metric. As always, context is key.

For example: When Giancarlo Stanton on Miguel Sano hit the ball hard, the result is often a home run. When Victor Martinez or Joe Mauer hit the ball hard, the result is more often a line drive or hard grounder on which a play might be made. (And since Mauer and Martinez are both converted catchers and run like converted catchers, infielders can afford to play them deeper.)

On average, the batting average on hard-hit balls is .538, the average on medium-hit balls is .268 and the average on soft-hit balls is .158. Those averages are not universal. Austin Jackson last year hit .360 on soft-hit balls, .400 in 2016. This is part of his skill set.

Anyway, to the question posed at the start: Joe Mauer is the sole Twin to place in the top 50 in hard-hit ball frequency (100 plate appearances minimum), 27.1 percent. He hit 162 balls hard, 85 of them for hits.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Gold Gloves, Tonk Out and RIP Doc

Both Byron Buxton and Brian Dozier were named winners of the Gold Glove Award on Tuesday.

Buxton, no question. Dozier, not so much. At risk of spoiling what I might comment on when my Handbook series gets to the Fielding Bible Awards section, Dozier wasn't in the top 10 of second basemen in that more-metric oriented approach. As the BIS-arranged voting has it, Ian Kinsler was by far the best fielding second baseman in the American League.

The Gold Gloves have a well-earned reputation for being swayed by a player's hitting, and Dozier has hit more than 100 homers over the past three seasons. Above-average defense and 30-plus homers a season makes him a very good player. But he's not really the best gloveman at his position, as Buxton is.

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The Twins sold Michael Tonkin to the Nippon Ham Fighters of Japanese baseball.

This clears another slot off the 40-man roster -- down now to 33 -- and gives Tonkin a better payday than he was going to get if he remained in the States. He'll get more than $2 million from the Fighters, who are expected to use him as their closer. (The team is owned by Nippon Ham; the name is not intended to imply that they are fighting hams.)

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Roy Halladay never pitched for the Twins, but he was for a decade one of the best pitchers in the game, and his death in a self-piloted plane crash Tuesday was the biggest news in baseball.

"Doc" Halladay was widely seen during his playing days as a likely Hall of Famer, but he didn't have the usual career path. His decline was brief and sudden, and his career totals (205 wins, 2,749 innings) are resultingly small for Cooperstown.

But his peak was longer than that of Johan Santana, his main rival for the title of Best Pitcher of the 2000s, and there are consensus enshrinees who essentially match Halladay's career totals -- Ed Walsh, Sandy Koufax, Rube Waddell, Dazzy Vance. And a few more dubious honorees.

He becomes eligible for the voting next winter -- I doubt the Hall will waive the five-year rule for him as it did for Roberto Clemente -- and his surprising death may perversely increase his chances of first ballot selection.

I think Halladay will eventually get in, and that's fine. I'm not sure he's a more deserving enshrinee than Mike Mussina or even Curt Schilling, but he should get in, sooner or later. Unfortunately, he won't get to be there to enjoy the honor.




Tuesday, November 7, 2017

More roster moves and a new coach

One day of the Handbook and back to news. The Twins front office, after taking the weekend off, got back to the roster shuffle on Monday, clearing three more spots on the 40-man roster and filling out their coaching staff.


  • Pitcher Nik Turley was claimed on waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
  • Catcher Chris Gimenez and pitcher Ryan O'Rourke were outrighted.


None of these cuts were particularly surprising.

O'Rourke was still listed on the Twins website as of Monday afternoon as being on the 60-day disabled list, but outrighted is outrighted. He's coming off Tommy John surgery, and I think he'll likely stay with the Twins organization.

Gimenez has been through this drill repeatedly.; I wouldn't be surprised to see him back in training camp with the Twins, but personally I'd prefer to see Mitch Garver get the backup catching job.

Turley had a nice season in Rochester, but showed nothing useful in the majors.

Counting the three pitchers remaining on the 60-day DL, the Twins now have 34 players listed on the 40.

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Shelton was the "quality control coach" for Toronto last year after 11 seasons as hitting coach with Tampa Bay and Cleveland. He's also managed in the minors in the Yankees system. Another guy who's been around a number of sabermetically-oriented organizations.

From this Rhett Bollinger piece on Shelton's hiring, an explaination of what a qaulity control coach is:

"The job description was fairly fluid," Shelton said. "Day to day, there was analytical stuff and advance scouting reports. I helped with hitting because that's my background, but I integrated into defense more than I had at the Major League level. And there was relationships with the Minor League coordinators about developmental roles. The job itself was ever-changing, and I looked at it as growth for me, especially because the bench-coach role was something I was looking to transition into."
Wonder how long it will take me to refer to him in the blog (or the column) as Blake.

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Rest in peace, Stelly. He lasted a long time on the Twins staff -- 32 years under five different managers -- but he was pretty obviously in rough shape last summer.

Monday, November 6, 2017

From the Handbook: Mauer and the Hall of Fame

The annual Bill James Handbook arrived last week in my mailbox -- year 29 and counting of its publication. I have 'em all, which is probably indicative of something wrong with me, but so be it.

The bulk of the book -- identified in the table of contents as the Career Register -- is, frankly, obsolete. When the Handbook begin, it served as an annual update to the Baseball Encyclopedia, the best place to find accurate answers to such questions as "how many career homers has Kent Hrbek hit?" Today Baseball Reference has all those stats and more online. And if the Career Register were still all the Handbook offered, I probably wouldn't still be buying it.

But this isn't 1989, and there's a lot more in it. This year -- if only to give me an organizing principle to guide my persual of this reference work -- I'm going to go through the non-Regster portions, front to back, and examine something Twins-related in it. Some days there'll be news that supercedes this project. It may take to spring training to finish.

We start, as the book does, with Bill James' reworking of his Hall of Fame Monitor system. This, as James takes pains to point out, isn't about who should be selected for Cooperstown, but about identifiing the players who are compiling the things that typically get players selected for Cooperstown. It's a prediction system based on previous selections, a tracking system. James devised the Monitor almost 40 years ago, there's been dozens of additional honorees, and he has updated the system.

Players get points as they reach accomplishments "typical" of Hall of Fame players. The point scale is set up to balance at 100 -- a player scores 100 on the Monitor, he's probably done enough to get into the Hall. If he's under 100, he probably hasn't. The"gray area" -- in which players may get in and may not -- is roughly 80 to 130. Again, it's not about who should be in, but about who's doing things that the ever-changing selection process has valued in the past.

So ... Joe Mauer. Mauer is listed, for what should be obvious reasons, as a catcher for this purpose, even though he hasn't caught since 2013. His bounceback 2017 gave him his first real boost in the Monitor since his move to first base.

Mauer stands at 89 on the revised Monitor, which, as it happens, is the same score as Carlton Fisk (enshrined). He's six points ahead of Ted Simmons, eight up on Thurmon Munson, 13 ahead of the still-active Yadier Molina, none of whom are in.

Mauer added four points to his total in 2017, which equals his total from the previous three seasons put together. Let's imagine that:


  • he has another such season in 2018 and
  • decides to retire at age 35.


That would leave him with 93 Monitor points. That might suffice to get him into Cooperstown; it might not.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Pic of the Week

World Series MVP George Springer rides in the Astros'
victory parade through downtown Houston on Friday.

The Twins drafted George Springer out of high school in 2008 but didn't sign him. He went to his homestate university (UConn) and was a first-round pick of the Astros three years later.

Worked out pretty well for him.

This concludes the Pic of the Week theme for the year. Next week I'll resume the Sunday Funnies -- baseball tales that may or may not be true but are at least a bit amusing.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Reducing the 40

Five Twins became free agents Friday. Later the Twins announced that three others had been removed from the 40-man roster.

There will be more deletions, and additions, to come.

The free agents are pitchers Matt Belisle, Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee, Glen Perkins and Hector Santiago. Multi-position guy Niko Goodrum cleared waivers and was outrighted; I think he's been in the organization long enough to opt for free agency. Pitcher Randy Rosario was claimed by the Cubs, outfielder Daniel Palka by the White Sox.

If there is any surprise here, it's that this wave of 40-man roster deletions wasn't more extensive. Somehow the ax missed Buddy Boshers, Michael Tonkin and Nik Turley; I can't imagine they will make it through the winter unscathed.

I don't think Chris Gimenez has ever gone through a winter on a 40-man roster. And I expect that at some point Kennys Vargas will wind up with a deal to play in Korea or Japan.

My count has 18 pitchers, three catchers, six infielders, six oufielders and one designated hitter remaining on the 40 as of this morning -- plus four pitchers on the 60-day disabled list who must either be returned to the 40 or cut loose (J.T. Chargois, Phil Hughes, Trevor May and Ryan ORourke). Add those four back, and it's at 38. That's too tight for all the prospects who must either be added to the 40 or exposed to the Rule 5 draft next month.

For me, Rosario was the most interesting loss. I saw him pitch in Cedar Rapids in 2015 and thought he had Perkins-like stuff -- mid 90s fastball and a quality slider. It was easy to envision him as a bullpen piece. And he still has an option left.

But he had a down year in Double A this year and did nothing useful in a brief callup in midsummer. Gabriel Moya has certainly passed him as a lefty bullpen option.

Still, the raw material is there. The Cubs claimed him on waivers, which is interesting. Rosario isn't good enough for the Twins 40-man roster, but he is for the Cubs. At least until they try to sneak him through waivers themselves.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment (into the offseason)

The Twins announced Thursday that Miguel Sano, still troubled by a stress reaction in his left shin, will have surgery on Nov. 13 to install a titanium rod. This is expected to solve the leg problem but complicate his workout/weight reduction plans.

Also noted in the above linked story from the Pioneer Press: Outfielder Zack Granite has already had hernia surgery.

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I noted earlier reports that Joe Vavra and Rick Anderson would rejoin Ron Gardenhire in Detroit. A third standby of Gardy's old Twins staff will be there too, but not Scott Ullger, as I'd half-jested. Steve Liddle, dropped by the Twins after the 2012 season, will be the Tigers bench coach.

Vavra's position was announced by the Tigers as "quality assurance coach," a vague and meaningless term to me. Presumably Gardenhire, Vavra and the Tigers front office know what he's supposed to do, and if so my ignorance is perfectly acceptable.

But there's a pretty good chance there will be little "quality" to assure from the rebuilding Tigers in 2018.



Thursday, November 2, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment (Astros are champs edition)

Game Seven -- Game Six also, really -- was something of an anticlimax. With the weather in Chevez Ravine back to normal, the venerable yard played normal, and the hitting was muted once Dave Roberts pulled Yu Darvish.

I've written this repeatedly over the years that I've been commenting on baseball: Baseball is a liquid; it takes the shape of its container. Dodger Stadium -- really, all the California major league parks -- is a pitcher's park, particularly for night games. It played differently for the first two games because of the heat.

So the wild comebacks that marked the first five games of the Series were absent at the end. Which is fine by me. Game Five was wild, entertaining and amazing, but I wouldn't like a daily diet of it.

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Give credit to A.J. Hinch, the Houston manager, who devised a short-term workaround to a reality that I suspect many managers would have ignored: His season-long preferred back-of-the-bullpen options were ineffective.

Hinch closed out the Yankees in the ALCS with starter Lance McCullers Jr. working four innings in relief of Charlie Morton. He closed out Game 3 of the World Series with Brad Peacock firing 3.2 innings in relief of McCullers. And in Wednesday's finale, Morton threw four innings, again in relief of McCullers (and others).

Using starters as relievers in the postseason isn't particularly inventive. It's sticking with them in the ninth that is unusual. Neither McCullers nor Peacock had a major league save in their careers until these long outings. Nor has Morton, who was credited with the win rather than the save for his four inning stint Wednesday.

Most managers would have reflexively thanked those guys after the eighth and waved in the closer. And the way Ken Giles collapsed this month (and, really. Chris Devenski as well), that probably wouldn't have worked.

Hinch's workaround harkened to the bygone era of doubleheaders and train travel, when the schedule really didn't allow managers to use set rotations. Most teams had one or two pitchers who were strictly starters and everybody else was a swing man. That practice died out a half-century or so ago. Hinch revived it out of necessity; I can't imagine that he'd want to try it for a full season.

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That said, I also suspect that the Astros' offseason will include a massive overhaul of their relief corps. Giles had such a miserable postseason (11.74 ERA in seven outings) that even the Astros championship won't erase the memories.

The closer era has been marked by a number of careers permanently marred by October failures, from Donnie Moore and Calvin Scharaldi to Matt Williams to Byung-Hyng Kim to Neftali Feliz. Giles may well prove to be the next addition to that list. I wouldn't be surprised if the Astros decide to trade him away even at a discount.

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#OldFriends Dept.: Francisco Liriano faced two hitters in this World Series and got them both out.  Juan Centeno never got into a game and will be a pretty good trivia answer someday.

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A good, satisfying World Series between two quality teams. Only 105 days until pitchers and catchers report.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment (Game Six edition)

And so there will be a Game Seven. Justin Verlander wasn't bad, but he cracked for two runs in the sixth and that was all the Dodgers needed, although they got more off the Houston bullpen.

This, I believed coming into the game, was the Astros' best opportunity to wrap up the series, Verlander being the workhorse that could protect the softness of the late-inning bullpen. It didn't work.

The good news for Houston: The Astros avoided using either Lance McCullers Jr or Brad Peacock. McCullers will start Game Seven tonight. Peacock is quite likely his tag-team starter, although Charlie Morton and Dallas Kuechel will be available.

And I can't shake the notion that Verlander might declare himself ready to pull a Randy Johnson, available to relieve on no-days rest.

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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was certainly consistent. Rich Hill was allowed to throw just 58 pitches, and then in came Kenta Maeda for the fourth time in the series and Brandon Morrow for the sixth. And Kenley Jansen pitched the final two innings.

The LA bullpen has been worn to a frazzle by a month of short starts. Monday's off day appears to have revitalized Maeda, Morrow and Jansen, but Roberts certainly isn't going to give Yu Darvish a long leash in Game Seven -- and there isn't an intervening off day for his bullpen crew.

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If (when) Morrow pitches tonight, he will tie Darold Knowles, a left-handed reliever of my youth, for the record in games pitched in one World Series. Knowles worked in all seven games of the 1973 series for Oakland against the Mets. Indeed, he got the final out -- relieved Rollie Fingers with two outs and a man on with a 5-2 lead after Fingers had gone 3.1 innings and got a popup to end it.

Knowles pitched for all three of the World Series seasons of the Mustache Gang dynasty in Oakland (1972-74), but the only Series he actually appeared in was the 1973 one. Seven games, 6.1 innings, one unearned run allowed, two saves.

His career is fun to look at. In 1970, for example, pitching for the Washington Senators (and managed by Ted Williams) he had 27 saves and a 2.09 ERA -- and went 2-14. One factor in that record is probably the nine unearned runs charged to him, which is a lot.

Fingers led the A's in innings pitched in that 1973 series, 13.2 -- one more out than Catfish Hunter recorded. And Tug McGraw, the Mets' top fireman, also threw 13.2 innings. (Tom Seaver and Jon Matlack each worked more innings than McGraw, however). Ken Holtzman started three games for the A's and pitched a total of 10.2 innings. Short starts indeed.

Moral of story: Bullpenning in the World Series is not new. But nobody expected Fingers, McGraw and Knowles to throw with the velocity demanded of Jansen, Morrow and Ken Giles, and the playoffs didn't stretch out for a full month.